Legend of the Lost (1957)

John Wayne and Sophia Loren star in Henry Hathaway's Saharan adventure film. Optimum UK R2 DVD

The Film

Paul Bonnard arrives in Timbuktu looking for a guide to take him out to the Sahara and is introduced to the local drunkard Joe January (John Wayne) who knows the desert well. Meanwhile, Bonnard finds his pocket picked and decides to try and 'save' the culprit Dita (Sophia Loren) with biblical salvation. Having never had any attention from men except for lust, she follows Paul and Joe's tracks into the desert and soon catches up to join their party. Paul is very mysterious about the location of their trip but eventually reveals that he is looking for a lost city in the desert, with massive wealth in its walls. After struggling through the sand they do find something, but it is not what they would expect...

The hard working Ben Hecht provides the storyline and on first impressions it is nothing too original - the desert adventure story has been a literary highlight since the great days of H. Rider Haggard and his kin - however Hecht tries hard to avoid the usual clichés and instead focuses on the characterisation of the trio, particularly that of Paul who undergoes an amazing transformation. This focus on the characters is so strong that Hecht never needs to add a single gratuitous action scene to keep the audience interested (so the usual scenes with Bedouin on camels being fought off are not present here). Of course this does mean that the film is pretty slowly paced and anyone looking for an action adventure film will be sorely disappointed, but for someone with patience it contains a number of unexpected twists and turns and builds up to a superb climax.

The film was largely shot in the Lybian deserts and Henry Hathaway (aided by cinematographer Jack Cardiff) makes the most of them with some beautiful scenery and long shots to make it clear that we are not just on a studio set - in fact there is not a single set throughout the exterior scenes, not even in the close-ups and the only optical effect in the whole film is a brief shot of some bats, done as an animation (which does look rather poor). Euro-cult regular Angelo Francesco Lavagnino provides a typical orchestral soundtrack for much of the runtime, with a few good scenes containing native chanting.

One of the most famous actors in American during the 1950s, John Wayne had come to fame as a cowboy but was trying to escape the typecasting and during the decade made just five Old West films, focusing instead on the Second World War (Flying Leathernecks (1951)) and general adventure films such as this one. Despite that, he still plays a very cowboyesque character and that gruff anti-heroic role he would play throughout most of his later films.

Sophia Loren was just breaking into Hollywood in 1957, thanks to Boy on a Dolphin (1957) and The Pride and the Passion (1957) - in keeping with those films, and a long way from her more usual glamorous appearance, Loren plays a grubby local girl with questionable morals and plays the part very convincingly. The final member of the trio is Rossano Brazzi, an Italian actor who had made a few appearances in international productions, including David Lean's Summertime (1955) - his is probably the toughest role to play and he does so very well.

Not the action packed adventure film that the setting suggests, Legend of the Lost is a strong character study that avoids becoming dull thanks to a well written script, some good acting and some very strong location shooting. Adventure film fans with a little patience should certainly enjoy this and it is of interest to fans of Loren and Wayne.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? John Wayne - legendary American actor best known for his lead role in John Ford's The Searchers (1956)
Sophia Loren - the Italian sex symbol who also appeared in Charlton Heston epic El Cid (1961)
Directed by anyone interesting? Henry Hathaway - a Hollywood regular who also helmed John Wayne vehicles The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969) as well as the classic adventure film The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Any gore/violence? None
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
Of interest for fans of Sophia Loren and John Wayne, recommended to patient adventure movie fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is generally very good with only mild speckling and a little grain.
Audio English mono - sounds fine throughout, although a little on the quiet side.
Subtitles None
Extras The disc includes:
  • A theatrical trailer that tries to show all the action scenes.
      Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
      Other regions? Also available in the US from MGM - includes the trailer, with French audio and English, French and Spanish subs.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. English language print



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 10th August 2008.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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